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If the Cheltenham Festival is the most prestigious event in the National Hunt calendar, then the Gold Cup has to be the most prestigious race. Whilst it used to be considered little more than a trial for the Grand National, as the importance of the Festival has grown, so has the significance of this race. It is now the event that everyone wants to win.

2018 Gold Cup Tips




PLEASE NOTE: New Customers can get Might Bite at an enhanced 70/1 to win the Gold Cup. Max Stake £1. Winnings paid in free bets. Full T&Cs Apply. 18+|Gamble Aware.

Brian Healy takes a runner-by-runner look at Friday's Gold Cup field, the feature race of the final day of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival.

Arguably the most anticipated race of the entire Cheltenham Festival week, the Cheltenham Gold Cup goes to post at 3.30pm on Festival Friday, and the top-class Grade One contest is sure to boast another fantastic field for the chasing Blue Riband.

Boasting a winners’ prize in excess of £350,000, the extended 3m 2f contest has a rich roll-call of winners, and the seasonal chasing highlight draws massive interest from around the globe to bear witness to another competitive and spellbinding spectacle between the very best staying chasers.



Defending champion Sizing John misses out on a title defence having suffered a fractured pelvis; but Jessica Harrington still has live claims of landing back-to-back Gold Cup wins with her Our Duke (13/2, Coral) who arrives on the back of a win over Presenting Percy in the recent Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park.

The Oscar gelding had looked set to go close in his previous outing in the Irish Gold Cup where he was still travelling well when making a shuddering mistake two out. That blunder robbed him of momentum, and he never recovered.

He also made a bad mistake last time out at Gowran Park, and his jumping will have to stand up to a searching examination at Cheltenham. If he can avoid mistakes then he ought to post a big effort, but he can throw in a bad one and that has to be a concern for supporters.

However, Presenting Percy’s impressive win in the RSA Chase gave the Red Mills Chase form a big boost, and he looks sure to go well if he can avoid any mistakes.

Anibale Fly (33/1, William Hill) produced a career-best effort to win a valuable Leopardstown handicap over the Christmas period, beating Ucello Conti by seven lengths.

Tony Martin’s charge however has struggled in Graded company over fences, and he was beaten when falling in the Irish Gold Cup last time.

The Assessor gelding will need to find another big jolt of improvement if he is to be competitive in this contest. He is one of a number of runners to carry the JP McManus silks, and in addition to Tony Martin’s runner the famous green and gold colours will be sported by other contenders in Minella Rocco (25/1, Coral) who hasn’t fired in four starts this term, including when beaten and falling behind surprise winner Edwulf (16/1, Boylesport) in the Irish Gold Cup.

Jonjo O’Neill’s charge has the talent to go close, as he showed twelve months ago when keeping on well to finish runner-up; but he is a moody performer and much will depend on whether he fancies giving his best effort.

Edwulf meanwhile almost lost his life at this meeting last year, collapsing on the run-in when contesting the National Hunt Chase; but slowly nursed back to health, he put behind him a couple of lesser runs to land a big-priced shock in the Irish Gold Cup.

He beat established Grade One performers such as Outlander and Djakadam, but he will have to back up that run now; while he was perhaps fortunate to score given Killultagh Vic (9/1, Ladbrokes) looked set to win when taking up the running before the last fence only to fall.

Willie Mullins’ charge had won both chase starts in the 2015/16, overcoming a bad blunder to score in a Leopardstown Grade Two contest. However, he was absent for almost two years before making a winning return over hurdles at Punchestown prior to that near-miss.

If none the worse for that spill, which looked a heavy fall, then he is another for whom a case could be made.  

Like JP McManus, the maroon silks of Gigginstown House Stud will be carried by multiple runners, headed by Road To Respect (14/1, Paddy Power) who won last season’s Brown Advisory Plate prior to beating Yorkhill to win a first Grade One at Fairyhouse.

Noel Meade’s charge has won two of his three starts this term, but he suffered a reversal in the JNwine.com Champion Chase behind Outlander. Subsequently back on track when beating Balko Des Flos in the Christmas Chase - formerly the Lexus - and he ought to give a good account although the form of the Noel Meade yard continues to give cause for concern with the Meath handler struggling to find winners.

The famous colours could also be carried by Outlander (33/1, Boylesport) who chased home Edwulf in the Irish Gold Cup having finished third to Road To Respect in the Christmas Chase.

The Stowaway gelding can make the odd mistake, but he’s a talented sort who could well outrun his big odds, and he didn’t disgrace himself in the race twelve months ago despite a back injury which curtailed his jumping.

He was never a factor in the Betfair Chase behind Bristol De Mai, and while he beat Road To Respect at Down Royal back in November, he probably needs to find more to win this.

Might Bite (9/2, Paddy Power) has been heading the ante-post market for some time now, and Nicky Henderson’s charge is unbeaten over fences since falling when clear in last season’s Kauto Star Novices’ Chase.

He has since scored in the RSA Chase twelve months ago, as well as landing further Grade Ones at Aintree and back at Kempton when taking the King George VI Chase from Double Shuffle.

RSA Chase winners have a good record when stepping into the Gold Cup, and while he showed plenty of quirks last term - he almost pulled himself up when clear in the RSA Chase - he looks much more straightforward now.

This is his toughest test to date, while he tries this trip for the first time; but the progressive Scorpion gelding can’t be ruled out from adding another big prize to his collection.

Djakadam (33/1, William Hill) has had a few bites of the Gold Cup cherry now, and there is a slight suspicion that this stiff uphill finish just stretches the stamina of the Saint Des Saints gelding.

He is a classy short though who should continue to give a good account, although he must be fed up now of being beaten by Sizing John; having finished fourth in this last year, he twice finished runner-up to Jessica Harrington’s charge in subsequent outings.

Pulled up in the Christmas Chase, he ran a better race to post a highly creditable third in the Irish Gold Cup; but beaten ten lengths there, he could prove vulnerable again taking in this race.

Willie Mullins perhaps surprisingly has thrust Total Recall (16/1, Coral) into the Gold Cup picture, but the Westerner gelding is entitled to take his chance following wins at Limerick and Newbury over fences - the latter in the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase where he beat Whisper - and he produced an excellent performance back over hurdles to score at Leopardstown.

This is a considerably tougher assignment, but he looks progressive and ought to give a good account; while Bachasson (33/1, William Hill) has won his last three over fences, which include Listed races at Thurles and Tramore.

The Voix Du Nord gelding has only once contested over three miles, when falling behind Unowhatimeanharry in the 2016 Albert Bartlett; he would have to rate a doubtful stayer at this trip.

NATIVE RIVER (9/2, Paddy Power) meanwhile could well improve on his third-place finish in last season’s renewal.

The Tizzard runner has improved markedly since winning a maiden Grade One at Aintree back in April 2016, and following a narrow defeat over hurdles on his return to action he reeled off a hat-trick of wins which included a mammoth weight-bearing performance to win the Welsh Grand National.

Having then won the Denman Chase impressively, the Indian River gelding did little wrong when finishing third in this race twelve months ago where the drying ground possibly just caught him out. He had also had a relatively hard season, having had a run every month up until the Festival.

He arrives here a much fresher horse, having made a taking return to action in this season’s Denman Chase where he beat Cloudy Dream by twelve lengths, with the returning Saphir Du Rheu(80/1, BetVictor) further behind. Ruth Jefferson’s charge is no mug, although he is arguably better over shorter given the way he travelled well into the race before finding little for pressure; while Saphir Du Rheu probably needed the run.

It was hard not to have been impressed by the manner of Native River’s own performance where he jumped well and travelled strongly throughout; he only needed to be pushed out to score readily, and if building on that outing then there appears no reason why he can’t improve on last season’s third.

Saphir Du Rheu meanwhile ought to strip fitter for that run, and he ran well for fifth in this race twelve months ago. He can give a good account, although whether Paul Nicholls’ charge is a bona-fide Grade One performer is debatable. 

Definitely Red (11/1, Coral) will find this tougher than the Cotswold Chase he won over this course in January, beating American; but Brian Ellison’s charge is well worth his place in this line-up, and his earlier defeat of Cloudy Dream entitles him to respect.

He has contested before at the Festival, falling behind Minella Rocco in the 2016 National Hunt Chase; but he has been more assured with his jumping, and while he needs to find a jolt of improvement stepping into another white-hot Cheltenham Gold Cup, he can give a good account.

Double Shuffle (50/1, William Hill) ran his heart out when chasing home Might Bite at Kempton last time, beating Tea For Two (66/1, William Hill) and Thistlecrack. However, Tom George’s charge has been the bridesmaid on several occasions now, and he was possibly flattered by his proximity to the Gold Cup ante-post favourite given that one appeared to idle on the run-in.

Nick Williams’ Tea For Two meanwhile has yet to show his true form at this venue in three starts, twice pulling up which include last time out in the Cotswold Chase.

The Kayf Tara gelding has done most of his winnng on flatter tracks, and the undulations of Cheltenham may again see him struggle.
It is hard to make a case for Shantou Flyer (100/1, BetVictor) who was beaten at Kelso in the Ivan Straker Chase, and while he ran well again at this venue when finding only Coo Star Sivola too strong in the Ultima Handicap Chase, the Shantou gelding isn’t a Grade One winner-in-waiting.

He has plenty to do clashing with top-class rivals on level weights, and the lowest-rated runner in the race - 152 - would be getting 17lbs from Might Bite in a handicap. That suggests Richard Hobson’s charge will be facing a near-impossible task stepping into top-class compan just three days after his Ultima exertions.

Harry Fry has supplemented American (25/1, Boylesport) into this race, and the high-class performer was a progressive novice last time, posting three successive wins which include a Listed win at Warwick.

The ground on his return in the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase - won by Total Recall - attributed to a poor effort, but he bounced back when finding only Definitely Red too strong in the Cotswold Chase where he went like the winner for some way before finding less than looked likely.

Connections will be hopeful of a big run from the Malinas gelding given their decision to supplement him for this contest; but he will need to find a significant jolt of improvement if he is to win this contest.

While he can give a good account, others look stronger, although he’ll relish the deep ground and he wont’ be disgraced.

VERDICT


A back-to-form Sizing John would surely go close in defence of his crown, while stablemate Our Duke can be given solid claims if jumping better; Coney Island blotted his copybook with a poor display of jumping last time at Ascot, while Djakadam has come up short in the past three renewals of this race.

Might Bite has to prove stamina over the extra quarter-mile, while there is always a risk that the quirks which saw him almost throw away the RSA Chase twelve months ago may resurface. The most solid option then, assuming this doesn’t come too soon, looks to lie with NATIVE RIVER (9/2, Paddy Power) who made a very pleasing return to action following a break when beating Cloudy Dream to win a second Denman Chase.

Colin Tizzard’s charge finished third in the Gold Cup twelve months ago, where the combination of a relatively busy season and the quicker ground may just have taken the edge off the Indian River gelding.

He arrives here much fresher than twelve months ago, and so long as the ground doesn’t dry out considerably then he ought to post another big effort. He is a horse who doesn’t know when he is beaten, and he looks solid each-way material in what looks a pretty open renewal, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him firmly in the mix once again.

2018 CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP SELECTION - NATIVE RIVER (9/2, Paddy Power

Expert Gold Cup Tips - Walsh, Pricewise

TipsterSelectionRationaleTip
Ruby WalshDjakadam 9/2He galloped and jumped really well in the schooling at Leopardstown last Sunday.Read
Barry GeraghtyDjakadam 9/2Wants the ground on the slow side thoughRead
Tom SegalMore of ThatOnly horse to beat Annie Power.Read
Nick WilbySizing John 7/1 (won)He can go well if his jumping holds upRead
Nina CarberryDjakadam 9/2Third time lucky with better prep than beforeRead
The Cheltenham Gold Cup (3:20pm) is a Class A Grade 1 chase run over three miles and about two and a half furlongs. It is open to horses aged five years old and upwards. The total prize fund for 2018 is £625,000 and the race will be run on Friday, March 16.

Last chance

Cheltenham Gold Cup Facts

Recent Winners

The first Gold Cup was actually a three-mile Flat race, run in 1819 and won by Spectre. The rich history of the event since those meager beginnings would have been hard to predict when it was first run as a chase in 1924, for prize money of just £700.

Since then the race has provided us with some of the most unforgettable sporting, let alone racing, stories and achievements.

From Golden Miller’s record five consecutive wins from 1932-36, to Best Mate’s emotional hat-trick in 2002, 2003 and 2004 that was so skilfully masterminded by racing’s odd couple, Henrietta Knight and Terry Biddlecome.

From the legendary performances of Arkle, whose three victories between 1964 and 66 included a success over Mill House in one of the sports greatest ever duels and a later success at 1/10 favourite, to the great Irish mare, Dawn Run, the only horse to have won both the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup.

From the heroics of the sport’s most loved performer, Desert Orchid, whose success in the mud and rain of 1989 was recently voted by Racing Post readers as the greatest ever race, to what was rated in a similar pole as the greatest training feat of all time, Michael Dickinson’s first five home in 1983.

The race continues to serve up thrilling stories, and the combination of speed, stamina and jumping that is required means that it is the ultimate test of the thoroughbred.

2017        Sizing John 7/1
2016        Don Cossack
2015        Coneygree
2014        Lord Windermere
2013 Bobs Worth
2012 Synchronised
2011 Long Run
2010 Imperial Commander
2009 Kauto Star
2008 Denman
2007 Kauto Star
2006 War Of Attrition
2005 Kicking King
2004 Best Mate
2003 Best Mate
2002 Best Mate
2000 Looks Like Trouble
1999 See More Business
1998 Cool Dawn
1997 Mr Mulligan
1996 Imperial Call
1995 Master Oats
1994 The Fellow
1993 Jodami
1992 Cool Ground
1991 Garrison Savannah
1990 Norton's Coin
1989 Desert Orchid

(prior winners detailed at bottom of page)

Course

Although run over three and a quarter miles, the pace of the race is more like a two and a half mile contest, meaning that there is an even greater emphasis on stamina. However, horses also have to have the speed to stay in contention, and have to jump well. With a long run-in, it is often the last half furlong that changes victory into defeat.

Race Facts

1. The Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup is the most valuable non-handicap chase in Britain with total prize-money of £500,000. The first Cheltenham Gold Cup was a three-mile Flat race in 1819, won by Mr Bodenham’s Spectre. The chase as we now know it was introduced in 1924, and won that year by Red Splash. The winning prize money was £700.

2. 2006 saw the joint biggest Gold Cup field ever, with 22 runners going to post. Since the race was first run in 1924, there has only been one other renewal with more than 20 runners - in 1982 when Silver Buck defeated 21 rivals. The current maximum field is 24.

3. Golden Miller holds the record for the most Gold Cup victories, with five consecutive wins from 1932-36. The race is fiercely competitive - so much so that before Best Mate in 2002, 2003 and 2004, the last horse to win more than once was L’Escargot in 1970 and 1971.

4. Golden Miller’s owner, Dorothy Paget, is also the most successful owner in the race with an amazing seven victories, with Roman Hackle (1940) and Mont Tremblant (1952) adding to Golden Miller’s five wins.

5. The most successful trainer was Tom Dreaper, who won five Gold Cups with three separate horses, namely Prince Regent (1946), Arkle (1964-66) and Fort Leney (1968). Paul Nicholls is the most successful current handler with four victories to his name - See More Business (1999), Kauto Star (2007 & 2009) and Denman (2008).

6. Tony McCoy’s Champion Hurdle/Cheltenham Gold Cup double in 1997 on Make A Stand and Mr Mulligan was the 11th time that the big-race double has been landed by one jockey in the same year. The other jockeys to have achieved the feat were Dick Rees (1929), Tom Cullinan (1930), Ted Leader (1932), Bill Stott (1933), Gerry Wilson (1935), Aubrey Brabazon (1949 and 1950), Tim Molony (1953), Fred Winter (1961) and Norman Williamson (1995).

7. Alderbrook and Master Oats in 1995 enabled Norman Williamson and Kim Bailey to join a very select group of jockey and trainer partnerships who have won both the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup in the same year. The other partnerships were Tom Cullinan and Jack Anthony in 1930, Ted Leader and Basil Briscoe in 1932, Bill Stott and Basil Briscoe in 1933, and Aubrey Brabazon and Vincent O’Brien in both 1949 and 1950.

8. Dawn Run is the only horse to have won both the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup. She was successful in 1984 and 1986 respectively.

9. The longest-priced winner of the Gold Cup is Norton’s Coin, who started at 100/1 in 1990, while the shortest-priced winner was Arkle, the 1/10 favourite in 1966.

10. The last grey Gold Cup winner was Desert Orchid in 1989.

11. totesport sponsored the Cheltenham Gold Cup from 1980-2011.

12. In the Gold Cup's history only seven horses have won more than once, and the most recent of them is Kauto Star, who took the spoils in 2007 and 2009. The others were Best Mate (2002/03/04), L'Escargot (1970/71), Easter Hero (1929/30), Golden Miller (1932/33/34/35/36), Cottage Rake (1948/49/50) and Arkle (1964/65/66).

13. While Best Mate, L’Escargot, Easter Hero, Golden Miller, Cottage Rake and Arkle all recorded consecutive victories, Kauto Star became the first horse to regain the Gold Cup in 2009.

14. Since 1980, eleven 9-year-olds, nine 8-year-olds, six 7-year-olds and five 10-year-olds have been successful. The last horse over the age of 10 to win was 12-year-old What A Myth in 1969. The last six-year-old to win was Mill House in 1963.

15. Nine favourites since 1980 have justified the market confidence – Kauto Star in 2007 and 2009, Kicking King in 2005, Best Mate in 2003 and 2004, Master Oats in 1995, Desert Orchid in 1989, Dawn Run in 1986 and Bregawn in 1983.

16. The four Irish-trained winners since 1980 were War Of Attrition in 2006, Kicking King in 2005, Imperial Call in 1996 and Dawn Run 10 years before that. Irish-trained horses did better between 1946 and 1977 when 16 successes were achieved. The only French-trained winner was The Fellow in 1994, while there has also been a Welsh-trained victor in Norton’s Coin (1990).

2012 Cheltenham Gold Cup Review

The 2011 hero Long Run was well-backed to make it back-to-back wins, going off 7/4 market leader, but he was beaten fair and square on the day, with the Jonjo O'Neill-trained Synchronised running out a worthy winner on the day. He was not unbacked either having been 'Pricewised' and punted into 8/1 on the morning of the race.

He was later to loose his life in controversial circumstances in that season's Grand National.

There was much expectation in dual winner Kauto Star prior to the race and he went off a well-backed 3/1 second favourite. However, his backers soon knew their fate, with the 12-year-old being pulled up before the ninth. 

The Giant Bolster had won the Argento Chase at the track on his previous start in easy fashion, yet he went off a complete outsider here at 50/1. That didn't stop him putting in a career-best effort, though, beating all bar the winner and finishing three quarters of a length ahead of Long Run.

2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup Review

7-2 favourite Long Run powered to an enthralling victory and beat Denman and Kauto Star to win a fantastic renewal of the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Amateur rider Sam Waley-Cohen overtook Paul Nicholls' legendary Gold Cup heroes at the last fence aboard the six-year-old and bounded up the hill to record a sensational seven-length success.

Denman (8-1) was a brave second with two-time winner Kauto Star (5-1) back in third, but it was Waley-Cohen's day and the jockey explained: "He's a whole lot better than I thought he was. That's a very special feeling and he's a very special horse.

"I want to say thank you to everyone for believing in me and the horse.  This is beyond my wildest dreams. I didn't think we were going to get there, but he picked up, and I think he still had a bit left.

"When he got there he saw the crowd and he wanted to stop and have a look.  What a horse he is."

Meanwhile, delighted winning trainer Nicky Henderson explained: "It was a great race because all the horses have run great races - there's no disputing it.

"Kauto Star was probably at his best today, but Long Run is a very good young horse.

"Sam gave him a beautiful ride. There was just a moment when I thought he needed a bit of daylight going down the hill, but he was very confident and he was very professional."

2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup Review

A race that was billed as one of the most compelling duels jump racing has ever seen did indeed come down to a fight to the end between two top class chasers. Unfortunately, only one of the acclaimed duo was involved in that fight and neither of them was able to claim the greatest prize in the sport which fell instead to IMPERIAL COMMANDER, who got the best of Denman in a titanic battle up the famous hill.

Going into the race, Imperial Commander looked the only horse likely to give Denman and Kauto Star a run for their money and so it proved as the Cheltenham specialist, and last season's Ryanair winner, improved again for the step up in trip here to outstay the runner up in the closing stages.

He has an impeccable record, and is very lightly raced for his age, so has every chance of repeating the dose in this race next season. He is also best fresh, but has yet to prove himself as effective going right handed - not that that matters when so many of the top races are run this way round.

There was no fluke about this success and he was a very worthy winner indeed.

Denman ran his heart out in second and his disappointing effort at Newbury last time is now a distant memory.

He adopted his usual punishing style of running here - taking the lead with a circuit to run and gradually winding up the pace. As he did so, challenger after challenger fell by the way side such that he and Imperial Commander had the race between them from some way out.

Many would have expected him to outstay the winner on the climb to the line, but he has more miles on the clock, and some very tough miles at that, and he was very weary at the end.

He gives his all in every race and may need time to recover from his exertions here. However, he thankfully seems to be over the heart problems that plagued him last year and could be back for one last crack at this race next season.

There was a yawning gap back to last season's National hero Mon Mome, who stayed on strongly to claim third. The rain clearly helped his cause as, whilst he lacks the class of most of his opponents here, he has stamina to burn. He claimed a nice prize in the process, but may have had a harder race than connections would have liked with Aintree in mind.

Another thorough stayer, Carruthers, was fourth, reinforcing the fact that this turned into a real war of attrition. This was a brave effort as he led until the fourth last. He is just below top class, but could be placed in this race in the future if ever he gets the heavy ground he really loves.

Last year's RSA Chase winner, Cooldine (fifth) showed further signs of a revival with a solid effort here. He didnt quite seem to stay the trip on this ground, the same being true of the sixth, Calgary Bay.

Everything seemed to be going to plan for the great Kauto Star in the early stages and a couple of exuberant early leaps appeared to confirm his wellbeing. However, for some reason he ploughed through the eighth and Ruby Walsh could never quite get him balanced or in rhythm again.

His class kept him in touch, but he was being niggled along, and the writing appeared to be on the wall, when he took a horrible fall five out. Plenty feared the worst, but, mercifully, he was quickly on his feet, which was one of the best sights of the entire Festival.

The rain softened ground may have played a part in his jumping falling apart, but all horses make mistakes and provided the tumble doesnt leave any mental scars he should be back next season, when a fifth King George will be the priority.

2009 Cheltenham Gold Cup Review

Those of us lucky to follow National Hunt racing in general, and this amazing race in particular, have been treated to some moments of the greatest sporting drama in recent years - from the emotional wins of Desert Orchid in 1989 and Dawn Run in 1986, to the brilliant hat trick of success posted by Best Mate between 2002 and 2004.

But this years race served up a contest every bit as thrilling and there was an extraordinary feel good factor around Prestbury Park in the aftermath of KAUTO STARS victory.

Not only did this great chaser become the first horse ever to regain this title, he did so in style by beating last year's awesome winner Denman by 13 lengths - easily the widest winning margin since Master Oats won by 15 lengths back in 1995.

This was also a pretty much flawless victory and one that surely assures the winner of a place in the history books as one of the greatest chasers of all time

Its now 2-1 to Kauto Star in his Gold Cup clashes with Denman, but after suffering such a heart breaking defeat last season what made the difference this time around?

Well, there were probably two key factors. Firstly, Paul Nicholls has worked out that the horse is best when very fresh and he has been prepared for this race accordingly. Secondly, he jumped superbly, never putting a foot wrong on decent ground that clearly brings out the best in him.

There were actually three Nicholls runners in contention at the third last, but it was here that Kauto Star quickened the tempo and, in a matter of strides, he was away from his rivals and the race was put to bed. He was going further and further away at the death.

Last season Kauto Star won over a new legion of fans by battling bravely all the way to the line in a losing cause. His conqueror then, Denman, ran an equally game race in defeat here.

Prior to this his season had appeared to have been ruined by the heart problems that were diagnosed in September. Physically, he hasnt looked the same horse since and after a heavy defeat at Kempton last time plenty were quick to write off his career.

However, he left those doubters eating their words here and with another summer on his back to recover there is every reason to believe he can get back to his absolute best next season.

If the third, Exotic Dancer, had been born in any other era he would have been one of the most successful chasers of all time. As it is, he must be sick of the sight of Kauto Star (who has beaten him nine times) and Denman, and a place was the best he could muster once again. He lost nothing in defeat and improved markedly on last season's fifth.

Neptune Collonges was the other Nicholls runner in contention at the third last. In fact, he had led the field for much of the race up until that point. However, like Exotic Dancer, he looks set to be a perpetual bridesmaid as he lacks the finishing speed of his more illustrious stablemates. Regardless, he will win plenty more good races.

My Will finished fifth to complete a marvellous training performance by Nicholls. He stays this trip well and loves decent ground. The Grand National will be his next target.

Roll Along (sixth) posted arguably his best performance over fences to date to finish sixth, whilst Barbers Shop (seventh), who travelled really well for much of the contest, failed to stay the trip and may end up in the Ryanair next season.

Madison Du Berlais (eighth) disappointed again here and clearly prefers a flatter track, whilst Albertas Run (ninth) was a big disappointment on ground that should have suited.

2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup Review

At last the waiting was over and we were finally able to enjoy one of the most eagerly anticipated races in recent memory.

And the clash between two of the superstars of the sport didn’t disappoint as DENMAN eventually ran out a comfortable winner of the Gold Cup ahead of his fierce rival Kauto Star, who finished a gallant second.

But instead of ending, once and for all, the great debate about which of Paul Nicholls’ two legendary chasers is the best, in many ways the race posed as many questions as it answered and left us all counting down the days to a possible rematch in 2009.

There was no doubting Denman’s superiority or brilliance on the day. It is not for nothing that he is known as “The Tank” and this was a performance that underlined just how appropriate that nickname is as this bull of a horse sealed victory with an awesome display of galloping and jumping that simply ran his rivals ragged.

The early pace didn’t seem to be overly generous, but the field began to get strung out as early as the seventh fence. However, the race really began in earnest when Denman took up the running passing the stands and it was also at this critical point that Kauto Star started to lose his customary fluency over the obstacles.

Denman, by contrast, had settled into the rhythm that had served him so well in all his runs over fences to date, and one by one he gradually broke the spirits of his rivals as the field headed out into the country on their second circuit.

By the time the leaders had reached the top of the hill for the final time the scene was set for a classic showdown with the four horses left in contention being the best four staying chasers around, Denman, Kauto Star and Exotic Dancer (who were first and second in the race last year), and Neptune Collonges.

However, everyone’s focus was firmly on the big two with thousands of sets of binoculars and countless pairs of eyes flitting back and forth between Sam Thomas, whose mount was surging ahead with every stride, and Ruby Walsh, who was struggling to get Kauto Star into contention as his partner’s jumping seemed to deteriorate at every fence.

Indeed, a huge gasp went up from the vast crowd at Cheltenham as the racecourse commentator relayed the news that Walsh was being forced to draw the whip on the reigning champion as the runners began the run downhill towards three out.

By this time, Neptune Collonges had given up trying to match strides with the eventual winner and turning for home it looked like Denman would win by a distance, but to his eternal credit Kauto Star found reserves of courage he hadn’t had to show before and rallied to close the gap to seven lengths by the line.

Indeed, had Kauto Star not done his usual trick of ploughing through the final fence, the distance between the pair might have been even closer. As it was, the 2007 champion was all out to repel the challenge of the re-rallying Neptune Collonges, who sealed a 1-2-3 for Nicholls.

Halcon Generladis stayed on from a mile back to claim fourth, while Exotic Dancer, who took three out by the roots, finished legless in fifth.

So how will the history books reflect on the performances of the big two here and what might the future hold for them?

Well, we are fast running out of superlatives to describe Denman. His victory in the Hennessy was one of the most breathtaking and clinical destructions of a high class field as you are ever likely to see and he was every bit as impressive here. However, there is no doubt that this was the hardest race of his life and time will tell how well he is able to recover from his exertions. In addition, he had conditions to suit as the softening ground blunted the natural speed of his main rival, but there is no doubt that he exploited that advance to the full.

In the aftermath of the race, connections were quick to confirm that Denman is likely to follow a similar route back here next season. However, if the horse is to really have a chance of going down in history as the best ever he surely needs to be taken out of his comfort zone and given the chance to show his versatility as well as his brilliance at this trip.

A commanding victory in the King George on a flat right handed track over three miles would surely do more than anything to help his rise towards the top of the list of all time greats, whereas another victory in the Hennessy against a host of rivals running from out of the handicap would do little to enhance his huge reputation any further.

For the connections of Kauto Star, there will surely be other days. He clearly wasn’t at his best here for some reason, as his jumping lacked its usual fluency and exuberance. The ground conditions certainly didn’t suit, but maybe a host of hard races in recent seasons has started to take its toll.

His brilliant trainer will surely be tempted to freshen him up before another crack at Denman here next March. However, there is a feeling that this will always be a “home” fixture for Denman and it would be a real shame were they never to meet elsewhere.

We’ve seen plenty of quality from Kauto Star in recent seasons but one thing we learned today is that well as oozing class he possess bucket loads of courage too and that will have made his owner almost as proud as he would have been had we won.

Neptune Collognes continues to improve and could be a real threat in this contest next year. He took time to acclimatise after his move from France, but is now really starting to fulfil the reputation he came with. His performance at Wincanton last time out looked like a top class weight carrying effort and that impression was certainly confirmed here.

Nothing else really got in a blow, but Exotic Dancer ran better than his finishing position suggests and he remains in the top echelon of staying chasers. He thoroughly deserves to win another big prize.

2007 Cheltenham Gold Cup Review

This years Gold Cup lacked a bit of strength in depth and was only steadily run, which arguably worked in favour of KAUTO STAR, and as the first 11 were covered by only 20 lengths or so it would be hard to rate the bare form, particularly by Gold Cup standards. In other respects, however, it was a championship performance, and one marred only by another last-fence mistake, albeit a less dramatic one than at either Kempton or Newbury.

We knew Kauto Star was an exceptional talent, but we couldn't be certain he would appreciate this stiffer test of stamina, and the jumping had to be a worry, despite connections' protestations to the contrary. Despite the steady gallop, he settled beautifully and cruised through the race under a patient ride before creeping into contention at the top of the hill. An extraordinary number of horses were still in contention as they approached the straight with two to jump, and it got messy among the leaders, with the riderless Idle Talk still there and Turpin Green inclined to go left. But when Kauto Star was angled out and launched with his challenge, he quickly went to the front, and having gone two or three lengths clear, he was never going to be caught.

Kauto Star ultimately wasn't as spectacular as many of us hoped he might be, but he'd been kept very busy by modern standards and deserves enormous credit for winning four championship standard races in a season over such a range of distances, especially when one remembers that his principal victim in the 2m Tingle Creek Chase was Wednesday's Queen Mother Champion Chase winner Voy Por Ustedes, whom he beat impressively by seven lengths. He will be campaigned differently next season, though Paul Nicholls would love to go back to Sandown for a second Tingle Creek, and connections' sights will be set firmly on the Gold Cup. He will set a very high standard if he avoids injury, but he makes little ante-post appeal at 3-1 and under, because none of the last three Gold Cup winners has been able to defend their crown, and next year's race could theoretically include not only Kicking King and War Of Attrition, but also Kauto Star's hugely talented stablemate Denman and the impressive Arkle winner My Way De Solzen.

Exotic Dancer has been a revelation for the combination of cheekpieces, earplugs and extreme waiting tactics, and with three course wins to his name there was always a chance he would make more of a race of it this time with Kauto Star, who had beaten him eight lengths in the King George. The usual tactics were adopted,and while he made several mistakes, he was still full of running at the back of the pack four out. He got messed around a bit on the inside going to the second-last, but connections would not use that as an excuse and he was beaten fair and square again,albeit by a much narrower margin.

First of the surprise packages in the finish was Turpin Green in first-time blinkers. He had beaten Exotic Dancer at Carlisle in October, but was beaten off 147 in the Peter Marsh and a near refusal at Sandown last season was hard to forget. He has always been talented enough, though, and the headgear, along with better ground, worked a treat, because he travelled strongly to three out and kept on well enough under pressure to show much-improved form. It remains to be seen if he can repeat the form next time, but he will be well treated in the Grand National with 11st 1lb.

Monkerhostin was another who appeared to run above his limited form this season, because he was beaten around 30 lengths in the King George, yet was only ten lengths behind Kauto Star this time despite making a bad mistake in rear six out and being still detached from the pack rounding the turn. His trainer's wife, Sarah Hobbs, said the gelding had not been right this season until now, and Aintree beckons, with connections choosing between the Betfair Bowl and the National. If opting for the latter, which seems to be favoured, he would be having a first experience of the big fences. He would be 5lb worse off with Turpin Green but might just take to them.

Cane Brake came from nowhere to snatch fifth. His handicap wins in Ireland before Christmas had been under much more testing conditions off marks of only 129 and 142, so while he deserves plenty of credit for another improved run, he is another whose proximity is hardly a ringing endorsement of the form overall. He shaped as if he will be suited by further but is not in the National.

The Hennessy winner State Of Play needed to improve again to feature here, but he was still something of an unknown quantity and had plenty going for him. He went well, as expected, until after three out, despite a couple of minor errors. He was then unlucky to get messed about in the traffic congestion approaching the second.

Roll of Honour (1924-1988)

(recent winners detailed towards top of page)

Year Winner Age/Wt Jockey Trainer SP

1988 Charter Party 10-12-00 Richard Dunwoody David Nicholson 10/1

1987 The Thinker 9-12-00 Ridley Lamb Arthur Stephenson 13/2

1986 Dawn Run 8-11-09 Jonjo O'Neill Paddy Mullins IRE 15/8F

1985 Forgive N' Forget 8-12-00 Mark Dwyer Jimmy FitzGerald 7/1

1984 Burrough Hill Lad 8-12-00 Phil Tuck Jenny Pitman 7/2

1983 Bregawn 9-12-00 Graham Bradley Michael Dickinson 100/30F

1982 Silver Buck 10-12-00 Robert Earnshaw Michael Dickinson 8/1

1981 Little Owl 7-12-00 Mr Jim Wilson Peter Easterby 6/1

1980 *Master Smudge 8-12-00 Richard Hoare Arthur Barrow 14/1

1979 Alverton 9-12-00 Jonjo O'Neill Peter Easterby Snailwell 5/1JF

1978 Midnight Court 7-12-00 John Francome Fred Winter 5/2

1977 Davy Lad 7-12-00 Dessie Hughes Mick O'Toole IRE 14/1

1976 Royal Frolic 7-12-00 John Burke Fred Rimell 14/1

1975 Ten Up 8-12-00 Tommy Carberry Jim Dreaper IRE 2/1

1974 Captain Christy 7-12-00 Bobby Beasley Pat Taaffe IRE 7/1

1973 The Dikler 10-12-00 Ron Barry Fulke Walwyn 9/1

1972 Glencaraig Lady 8-12-00 Frank Berry Francis Flood IRE 6/1

1971 L'Escargot 8-12-00 Tommy Carberry Dan Moore IRE 7/2JF

1970 L'Escargot 7-12-00 Tommy Carberry Dan Moore IRE 33/1

1969 What A Myth 12-12-00 Paul Kelleway Ryan Price 8/1

1968 Fort Leney 10-12-00 Pat Taaffe Tom Dreaper IRE 11/2

1967 Woodland Venture 7-12-00 Terry Biddlecombe Fred Rimell 100/8

1966 Arkle 9-12-00 Pat Taaffe Tom Dreaper IRE 1/10F

1965 Arkle 8-12-00 Pat Taaffe Tom Dreaper IRE 3/10F

1964 Arkle 7-12-00 Pat Taaffe Tom Dreaper IRE 7/4

1963 Mill House 6-12-00 Willie Robinson Fulke Walwyn 7/2F

1962 Mandarin 11-12-00 Fred Winter Fulke Walwyn 7/2

1961 Saffron Tartan 10-12-00 Fred Winter Don Butchers 2/1F

1960 Pas Seul 7-12-00 Bill Rees Bob Turnell 6/1

1959 Roddy Owen 10-12-00 Bobby Beasley Danny Morgan IRE 5/1

1958 Kerstin 8-12-00 Stan Hayhurst Verly Bewicke 7/1

1957 Linwell 9-12-00 Michael Scudamore Charlie Mallon 100/9

1956 Limber Hill 9-12-00 Jimmy Power Bill Dutton 11/8F

1955 Gay Donald 9-12-00 Tony Grantham Jim Ford 33/1

1954 Four Ten 8-12-00 Tommy Cusack John Roberts 100/6

1953 Knock Hard 9-12-00 Tim Molony Vincent O'Brien IRE 11/2

1952 Mount Tremblant 6-12-00 Dave Dick Fulke Walwyn 8/1

1951 Silver Fame 12-12-00 Martin Molony George Beeby 6/4F

1950 Cottage Rake 11-12-00 Aubrey Brabazon Vincent O'Brien IRE 5/6F

1949 Cottage Rake 10-12-00 Aubrey Brabazon Vincent O'Brien IRE 4/6F

1948 Cottage Rake 9-12-00 Aubrey Brabazon Vincent O'Brien IRE 10/1

1947 Fortina 6-12-00 Mr Richard Black Hector Christie 8/1

1946 Prince Regent 11-12-00 Tim Hyde Tom Dreaper IRE 4/7F

1945 Red Rower 11-12-00 Davy Jones Lord Stalbridge 11/4F

1943/1944 No race

1942 Medoc II 8-12-00 Frenchie Nicholson Reg Hobbs 9/2

1941 Poet Prince 9-12-00 Roger Burford Ivor Anthony 7/2

1940 Roman Hackle 7-12-00 Evan Williams Owen Anthony Evs

1939 Brendans Cottage 9-12-00 George Owen George Beeby 8/1

1938 Morse Code 9-12-00 Danny Morgan Ivor Anthony 13/2

1937 No race (flooded)

1936 Golden Miller 9-12-00 Evan Williams Owen Anthony 21/20F

1935 Golden Miller 8-12-00 Gerry Wilson Basil Briscoe 1/2F

1934 Golden Miller 7-12-00 Gerry Wilson Basil Briscoe 6/5F

1933 Golden Miller 6-12-00 Billy Stott Basil Briscoe 4/7F

1932 Golden Miller 5-11-05 Ted Leader Basil Briscoe 13/2

1931 No race (frost)

1930 Easter Hero 10-12-00 Tommy Cullinan Jack Anthony 8/11F

1929 Easter Hero 9-12-00 Dick Rees Jack Anthony 7/4F

1928 Patron Saint 5-11-05 Dick Rees Stanley Harrison 7/2

1927 Thrown In 11-12-00 Hon Hugh Grosvenor Owen Anthony 10/1

1926 Koko 8-12-00 Tim Hamey Alfred Bickley 10/1

1925 Ballinode 9-12-00 Ted Leader Frank Morgan IRE 3/1

1924 Red Splash 5-11-05 Dick Rees Fred Withington 5/1

* Master Smudge finished second to Tied Cottage, who was subsequently disqualified for failing a post-race urine test


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